Illinois 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Says Putting A Worker on Forced Leave May Become the Foundation of a Lawsuit
Nov 21, 2012
Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) November 20, 2012 – Forcing workers to take leave may result in a lawsuit.
“This recent case, Arizanovska v. Wal-Mart Stores, No. 11-3387, 7th Cir., 2012, handled by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Illinois, states with relative clarity that forcing a worker to go on leave may be the basis for a lawsuit. This would be true even if the company has a policy relating to forced leave and applies it evenly across the board,” said Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace.
In simple language, forcing someone to take leave from work is regarded as an adverse action. In Arizanovska, a black, female employee was a part-time worker at Wal-Mart. In the course of her work, she was required to lift at least 50 pounds. The woman discovered she was pregnant, and on advising her supervisor, was allowed to stock aisles with lighter items.
The first pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage, but the woman became pregnant again, with strict orders from her doctor to lift no more than 10 pounds. This effectively meant she could not stock any aisle in the store. She put in for a transfer to an area where she could fold clothing instead. The Human Resources department advised her all workers had to take a temporary leave of absence if the could not perform their duties, unless they were disabled and seeking some form of reasonable accommodation to continue their jobs.
“The store was not about to create any new positions for the woman, and did not have any other lighter duty jobs that would allow her to work with her medical restrictions,” indicated Coffey. The lady went home and contacted an employment attorney, and filed suit alleging she was forced to quit as a form of retaliation, because she could not do light-duty work, and the company was discriminating against her by also denying her lighter duty tasks.
When this case got to court, Wal-Mart proved that all black women in their employ were treated in the same manner. While they were allowed to casually adjust their work duties, where possible, they too did not get light duty positions. Wal-Mart counsel argued she could not sue, because she had not suffered an adverse action by being fired, receiving a pay cut or being demoted. Instead, she was placed on temporary leave, until she could perform her regular duties. The lower court dismissed the case.
On appeal, the court did not dismiss her argument. They instead came to the conclusion that being forced to take leave was indeed an adverse action, despite the fact she could come back to work later. In a nutshell, the court deemed that an action is adverse if it affects a worker’s wealth, harms their career prospects, and changes their working conditions, negatively changing the workplace environment or subjecting a worker to unsafe, humiliating work. “Since unpaid leave affected the woman’s salary (wealth), the court deemed it was adverse,” Coffey stated.
Of interest is that the plaintiff still lost her case. She could not prove pregnancy discrimination was the reason Wal-Mart forced her to take unpaid leave. The facts showed all workers in the same situation were forced to take leave, whether or not they had filed a human rights complaint. “The important information to take away from this case is that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ‘only’ protects pregnant women from different treatment ‘because’ they are pregnant,” added Coffey.
Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com
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